New Report: Pinning Down the Jellyfish: The Workplace Experiences of Women of Color in Tech
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BIAS INTERRUPTERS TOOLKIT

Assignments

Incremental steps that improve diversity in your organization can yield large gains. Diverse work groups perform better and are more committed, innovative, and loyal.

It’s time to go beyond just talking about the problem of workplace bias. Bias Interrupters is an evidence-based model that provides solutions. By taking small steps, Bias Interrupters can yield big changes.

We’ve distilled the huge literature on bias into simple steps that help you and your company perform better.

THE CHALLENGE

Every workplace has high-profile assignments that are career-enhancing (“glamour work”) and low-profile assignments that are beneficial to the organization but not the individual’s career. Research shows that women do more “office housework”1 than men.This includes literal housework (ordering lunch), administrative work (scheduling a time to meet), emotion work (“she’s upset; comfort her”) and keeping-the-trains-running work. Too often diversity work is treated as undervalued office housework. Among women at the manager level and above, Black women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities are up to twice as likely as women overall to spend a substantial amount of time promoting DEI.2 The common practice of assigning large loads of diversity advocacy to these groups further jeopardizes their advancement as they will have to literally work more hours than majority men if they want to get ahead.
 
In industry after industry, women and professionals of color report less access to desirable assignments than white men do.3 In our study of lawyers:4

· Glamour work. More than 80% of white men, but only 53% of women of color, 59% of white women, and 63% of men of color, reported the same access to desirable assignments as their colleagues.

· Office housework. Almost 50% of white women and 43% of women of color reported that at work they more often play administrative roles such as taking notes for a meeting compared to their colleagues. Only 26% of white men and 20% of men of color reported this.

Research also shows that LGBTQIA+ employees report less access to opportunities to take on a leadership role and to develop their skills, which in turn impacts their intent to stay at their jobs.5

Diversity at the top can only occur when diverse employees at all levels of the organization have access to assignments that let them take risks and develop new skills. If the glamour work and the office housework aren’t distributed evenly, you won’t be tapping into the full potential of your workforce. Most workplaces that use an informal “hey, you!” assignment system end up distributing assignments based on factors other than experience and talent. Managers that lead hybrid teams need to be particularly mindful to avoid proximity bias and to distribute career-enhancing assignments equally among their on-site and remote workers. If women, caregivers, and people of color are more likely to prefer remote work6 and to be overlooked for glamour work, they likely grow dissatisfied and search for opportunities elsewhere.7
 
To learn more about how assignments may be holding back your star players, read our Harvard Business Review article.

THE SOLUTION

Fair allocation of the glamour work and the office housework are two separate problems. Some organizations will want to solve the office housework problem before tackling the glamour work; others will want to address both problems simultaneously.

1) Identify and track your organization’s issue(s) regarding assignments.

2) Implement Bias Interrupters in diversity work, office housework, and/or glamour work, detailed in the drop-down menu below.

Center for WorkLife Law. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Footnotes

  1. Williams, J. C., & Dempsey, R. W. (2014). What works for women at work: Four patterns working women should know. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  2. Cooper, M. (2021). Research: Women Leaders Took on Even More Invisible Work During the Pandemic. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/10/research-women-took-on-even-more-invisible-work-during-the-pandemic
  3. Williams, J.C., Li, S., Rincon, R., & Finn, P. (2016). Climate Control: Gender and Racial Bias in Engineering? Center for WorkLife Law. UC Hastings College of the Law. Available at: https://worklifelaw.org/publications/Climate-Control- Gender-And-Racial-Bias-InEngineering.pdf; Williams, J.C., Korn, R. M., Rincon, R., Finn, P. (2018) Walking the Tightrope: An Examination of Bias in India’s Engineering Workplace. Center for WorkLife Law. UC Hastings College of the Law. Available at: https://worklifelaw.org/wpcontent/uploads/2018/10/Walking-the-Tightrope-Bias-Indias-Engineering- Workplace.pdf; Williams, J. C., Multhaup, M., Li, S., Korn, R. M. (2018). You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession. American Bar Association & Minority Corporate Counsel Association. https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/you-cant-change-what-you-cant- see-print.pdf; Williams, J.C., Korn, R., & Maas, R. (2021). The Elephant in the Well-Designed Room: An Investigation Into Bias in the Architecture Profession.
  4. Williams, J. C., Multhaup, M., Li, S., Korn, R. M. (2018)
  5. Cech, E. A., & Waidzunas, T. J. (2021). Systemic inequalities for LGBTQ professionals in STEM. Science advances, 7(3).
  6. Barrero, J.M., Bloom, N., & Davis, S.J. (2021). Why Working from Home Will Stick. https://nbloom.people.stanford.edu/sites/g/files/sbiybj4746/f/why_wfh_will_stick_21_april_2021.pdf; Combs, V. (2021). Slack Survey Finds That 97% of Black Knowledge Workers Want the Future of the Office to Be Remote or Hybrid. https://www.techrepublic.com/article/slack-survey-finds-97-of-black-knowledge-workers-want- the-future-of-the-office-to-be-remote-or-hybrid/
  7. Babcock, L., Recalde, M. P., Vesterlund, L., & Weingart, L. (2017). Gender differences in accepting and receiving requests for tasks with low promotability. American Economic Review, 107(3), 714-47.doi: 10.1257/aer.20141734
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